Whether you believe stress is a migraine trigger or that the behaviors caused by stress (not sleeping well, eating poorly, etc.) are the culprit, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce migraine frequency and severity, according to a study published in the July edition of the journal Headache.1 MBSR is an eight-week program specifically designed to mitigate stress related to health issues. Teachings include meditation, mindfulness, relaxation breathing and gentle yoga.
In the study, 19 adults who had between four and 14 migraine days a month were split into two groups; 10 received MBSR training and nine received standard medical care. Those in the MBSR group attended classes to learn the techniques once a week for eight weeks and were instructed to practice for 45 minutes a day at least five days a week.
Following the program’s completion, MBSR participants reported significantly shorter and less disabling migraine attacks than the control group. They also reported an increased sense of control over their migraine attacks and higher levels of mindfulness. On average, they had 1.4 fewer migraines per month.
The encouraging findings of the study may be eclipsed by that number – 1.4 fewer migraines doesn’t seem that great. However, going from 4 to 2.6 migraine attacks a month is a huge improvement and people who have as many as 14 a month are generally grateful for any reduction in attack frequency. All this in a treatment that has no adverse effects and gives people a sense of control over their migraine attacks? Sounds great!
I can attest to how great it is — I took an MBSR course in 2008 and can’t recommend it highly enough. The lessons I learned were invaluable in helping me figure out how to cope with what were, at the time, constant migraine attacks. Mindfulness has since become a huge part of how I approach many aspects of and conflicts in my life. The change in my life was so tremendous that I’m thrilled to see MBSR being studied specifically for migraine.
To find an MBSR course, search for “MBSR” and the name of your city or town or look for online courses (UMass, where the program was developed, offers one for $199). Classes can be pricy, though many places offer need-based discounts. You can also approximate the course for less than $30 by reading Full Catastrophe Living and listening to Job Kabat-Zinn’s Guided Mindfulness Series 1 CD set. (Many libraries carry both resources, so you might be able to get an introduction to MBSR at no charge.)
Learn more about mindfulness and suggested resources in the Migraine.com posts:
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction,
by The Migraine Girl
Migraine & Mindfulness: “Bruce Almighty”,
by Kerrie Smyres (that’s me — this post includes information on CDs and websites that I’ve found most helpful)